The Terminator is having a bad day. It’s a muggy July afternoon in New Orleans—the temperature is loitering in the triple digits—and Arnold Schwarzenegger is inside a giant warehouse on the grounds of NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. Suited up in a black leather jacket with green-painted latex obscuring most of the right side of his face, he is again playing the indelible robot that solidified his place in Hollywood some 30 years ago. So far today the former governor of California has been stepped on and forced to crawl on the ground, and now, as he gasps for breath fighting his opponent, he’s about to get transported to a different time—which, if you know anything about Terminator mythology, is a very bad thing. Especially if your metal endoskeleton is showing.
The beginning of Terminator: Genisys, the first of three planned films that Paramount hopes will relaunch the beloved sci-fi franchise, is set in 2029, when the Future War is raging and a group of human rebels has the evil artificial-intelligence system Skynet on the ropes. John Connor (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Jason Clarke) is the leader of the resistance, and Kyle Reese (Divergent’s Jai Courtney) is his loyal soldier, raised in the ruins of post apocalyptic California. As in the original film, Connor sends Reese back to 1984 to save Connor’s mother, Sarah (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke), from a Terminator programmed to kill her so that she won’t ever give birth to John. But what Reese finds on the other side is nothing like he expected.
In this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, we offer an exclusive first look at the reinvention of a $1.4 billion franchise, including two exclusive covers of the new cast, and explore the filmmakers’ time-twisty plan to reconnect fans to what made those first two movies so cool, while tweaking audience expectations. “It’s like going on tour again if you’re Pink Floyd—the audience always wants to hear some of the old songs,” says Matt Smith, the former Doctor Who star who plays a close ally of John Connor. “There are enough nods to the past that people will feel satisfied.”
James Cameron’s Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day not only set the bar for what could be achieved in genre film-making, but those two movies introduced audiences to a strong female protagonist, a gut-wrenching love story, and one awesome villain/hero, all set against the backdrop of nuclear war. If history has taught us anything, it’s that it can be perilous to mess with Cameron’s precise formula. (Terminator: Salvation anyone?) But a new group of filmmakers, led by producers David Ellison and Dana Goldberg and director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World), seem determined to sidestep the mistakes of the past with Genisys, set for release in July 2015.
Their recipe calls for one part Teutonic monotone with Arnold Schwarzenegger back in a big way, and four parts exciting new cast with geek bonafides that are sure to appease the Comic-Con masses, plus ground-breaking special effects and a few shocking twists on the canon.
Twist No. 1? Sarah Connor isn’t the innocent she was when Linda Hamilton first sported feathered hair and acid-washed jeans in the role. Nor is she Hamilton’s steely zero body-fat warrior in 1991’s T2. Rather, the mother of humanity’s messiah was orphaned by a Terminator at age 9. Since then, she’s been raised by (brace yourself) Schwarzenegger’s Terminator—an older T-800 she calls “Pops”—who is programmed to guard rather than to kill. As a result, Sarah is a highly trained antisocial recluse who’s great with a sniper rifle but not so skilled at the nuances of human emotion.
“Since she was 9 years old, she has been told everything that was supposed to happen,” says Ellison. “But Sarah fundamentally rejects that destiny. She says, ‘That’s not what I want to do.’ It’s her decision that drives the story in a very different direction.”